Since late last year, Turkey has sought to move closer to Israel in an attempt to regain ties with regional powers. To this end, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, to Ankara in March. Turkish officials, including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, have also travelled to Israel to strengthen the bilateral partnership.
The most recent high-level meeting between the two countries took place recently in Ankara, where the Israeli foreign minister and future interim prime minister, Yair Lapid, travelled to meet with Cavusoglu. However, the reason for this trip was different from previous ones. While Lapid's presence in Turkey is aimed at increasing cooperation with Erdogan's government, Israel's top diplomat's objective with this trip was to address the security of Israeli citizens in the Eurasian country amid Iranian threats.
Today, I met in Ankara with my friend @MevlutCavusoglu, the Foreign Minister of Türkiye. 🇮🇱 🇹🇷— יאיר לפיד - Yair Lapid🟠 (@yairlapid) June 23, 2022
In recent weeks, the lives of Israeli citizens have been saved thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Türkiye. pic.twitter.com/VENVAVVIEh
In early June, Jerusalem urged Israeli tourists in Istanbul to return to the country "as soon as possible" after Turkish and Israeli intelligence services uncovered Iranian plans to kidnap Israelis in Turkey. "If you are already in Istanbul, return to Israel as soon as possible. If you have a flight to Istanbul planned, cancel it. No holiday is worth your life," Lapid declared at the time.
On his recent trip to Ankara to discuss the issue, the Israeli minister praised security cooperation with Turkey and welcomed joint coordination. "The lives of Israeli citizens have been saved thanks to the security and diplomatic cooperation between Israel and Turkey," Lapid said, using the country's new official name, according to The Times of Israel. Outgoing Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has also acknowledged the "joint Israeli-Turkish effort" to thwart attacks on Israeli tourists.
According to Turkish media, 10 Iranians suspected of planning attacks against Israeli tourists have been arrested in a joint operation by the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT) and the national police. The MIT uncovered information about kidnapping and assassination plots against Israelis in Istanbul, including a former ambassador and his wife who were staying at a hotel in the Beyoglu district.
Israeli FM Lapid in Ankara:— TRT World Now (@TRTWorldNow) June 23, 2022
⁰⁰- Turkish intelligence recently foiled 'Iranian plot' in Istanbul, these efforts are ongoing
- Lives of Israeli citizens have been saved in recent weeks thanks to security and diplomatic cooperation between Türkiye and Israel pic.twitter.com/CdXVmQm7UE
Last February, the MIT also arrested an Iranian cell planning the assassination of Turkish-Israeli businessman Yair Geller. "We will never allow such things to happen in our country," Cavusoglu stressed. Israel, for its part, sent security forces and intelligence agents to the country to evacuate citizens in danger.
Lapid said Israel is confident that Ankara "knows how to respond to the Iranians" and their plans to attack Israeli tourists, something that, according to the minister, cannot be denied since "intelligence leaves no doubt about it". "Israel will not stand idly by when attempts are made to harm its citizens in Israel and around the world," he added.
Other issues discussed by the two ministers included the return of ambassadors after the 2010 diplomatic crisis and the "enhancement of economic and political dialogue". According to the head of Turkish diplomacy, there will be trade meetings in July and September. He also acknowledged that they would like to 'continue dialogue in the field of energy'. One of Erdogan's aspirations for the new phase of relations with Israel is to build a gas pipeline to Europe in the midst of the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.
In addition to the meeting with Cavusoglu, Lapid also met with Hakan Fina, head of the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation. This trip, according to analyst Jason Brodsky of United Against Nuclear Iran, "is an unusual step for Israel's foreign ministry and reflects the gravity of the situation," he told Arab News.
"Iran is trying to restore deterrence by expanding its target list, focusing not only on Israeli diplomats and businessmen, but also on civilian tourists," he explains.
Met with Foreign Minister @yairlapid of #Israel.— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) June 23, 2022
Discussed bilateral and regional issues.
Emphasized once again our sensitivities on the Palestinian issue.
Will enhance our positive dialogue with concrete steps.
We started to work on the reciprocal appointment of Ambassadors. pic.twitter.com/jLyzfsJ7KU
Brodsky suggests that perhaps this "reflects frustration on the part of Iran's security services after repeated attacks" and recalls Tehran-orchestrated attacks on Israeli citizens in other countries, such as the bombing of a bus of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012. Moreover, in March 2016, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a group of Israeli tourists in Istanbul, killing three of them.
Iran has vowed retaliation against Israel, which it blames for the murder of Hassan Sayad Khodai, a Revolutionary Guards colonel shot by two people on a motorbike in Tehran in May. However, he called Israel's accusations "ridiculous" and "unfounded".
"Iran's response to the Israeli regime's assassinations and sabotage will always be authorised and without harming the security of ordinary citizens and the security of other countries," Iran's foreign ministry wrote on its Twitter account.